Meet your priests: Father Joseph Bruce, S. J.


Pope Benedict XVI has declared the period of June 19, 2009 to June 19, 2010 as the Year for Priests. During this period, Rhode Island Catholic will present a series of interviews with diocesan and religious order priests ministering in the Diocese of Providence. Priests were chosen at random and sent a list of questions. The responses are published as written by those who have answered the call to serve Christ and his church.

Father Joseph Bruce, S.J., St. Charles Borromeo Church

Woonsocket, RI

When did you first think of becoming a priest?

When I was a student at Holy Cross College, Fr. Joe LaBran, S.J., who was a chaplain for the student Sodality of Our Lady, saw me walking from class on the way back to the dorm and noticed that I was not my usual self. He approached me and asked how I was doing. I responded by saying that it was tough being the only deaf person on the campus and I wished that one of my teachers were deaf. He responded saying, “Why don’t you become a Jesuit priest? I responded by saying that the church did not allow deaf men to be ordained priests. Then he said, “God is full of surprises. He can change things whenever he wants to.” After that I began to think about it.

Was there anyone in your childhood who inspired and encouraged your vocation by their example of holiness, such as a parent, grandparent or religious sister or brother? (Did you attend Catholic schools?)

Everyone in my family and most families in the neighborhood were practicing Catholics. We went to Mass every Sunday and every holy day of obligation. We said grace before meals on special days. My family had relatives who were in religious life or in the priesthood: Sr. Mary Kevin who was a Sister of Providence of Springfield who was my mother’s aunt; Sr. Mary Anthony who was a Sister of Notre Dame and related to us on my maternal grandfather’s side; Fr. Maurice Martin who was a diocesan priest for the Diocese of Springfield and was also related on my maternal grandfather’s side. Fr. Leo O’Sullivan, who is related to my maternal grandmother, is a missionary of St. Patrick and worked for many years in Nigeria. Fr. Leo is still living and has returned to Ireland.

My brother Andy was a good example. He is three years younger than I am. He became an altar boy and I wanted to become an altar boy, too. Because of my deafness I was speech and language delayed. Three years after my brother became an altar boy, one summer he taught me the responses in Latin and after a month of practice I became an altar boy at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in Springfield, MA, the parish my family grew up in.

My brother went to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School while I attended Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, MA. After I graduated from Clarke, my brother and I went to Cathedral High School in Springfield. Even though I was three years older than my brother (and everyone else in the class) we attended Cathedral High School which was run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield. I also attended Holy Cross College for my BA and Canisius College for my master’s degree. Both colleges are Jesuit schools.

What is the greatest joy of being a priest?

My greatest joy was when the Jesuits received the dispensation from Rome which allowed them to ordain me a priest! It was very stressful waiting for the dispensation while everyone in my class was approved for ordination! The privilege of being a priest is something I do not take for granted.

Can you share an experience you are most grateful for in your priestly ministry?

In order to understand my response to this question, we need to go back to my college years. While I was a student at Holy Cross College, I was not doing well in math and I decided to become a Spanish major. Unfortunately, the modern language department did not allow me to major in Spanish because I “cannot hear Spanish.” Then I asked if I could major in English and I was allowed to major in English. I remember keeping my fingers crossed hoping that no one realized that I cannot hear English either! Eventually after years of priestly ministry in the diocese of Worcester, MA, the Jesuits gave me a sabbatical year to go to El Instituto de Idiomas de Maryknoll in Cochabama, Bolivia to learn Spanish.

After a year studying Spanish in Bolivia, I was assigned to St. Mary of the Angels Church (Iglesia Santa Maria de los Angeles) in Roxbury, MA. I am most grateful for Fr. Jack Fagan, SJ, the pastor then, for inviting me to work in this parish. I am also most grateful for the parishioners who took their time to help me pronounce the Spanish correctly so I could support their faith life and enjoy ministry among them.

What has been the greatest challenge you have faced in serving?

The greatest challenge in serving people is being able to lipread the hearing people I serve. Lipreading is never easy. Every person moves his/her lips differently when they speak. Lipreading is very tiring. Lipreading everyday is like running the Boston Marathon everyday!

How do you keep informed of current developments affecting the church and your parishioners?

I read America Magazine, The Tablet, National Catholic Reporter, Review for Religious, Theological Studies, in house Jesuit publications and diocesan newspapers. I also attend classes or conferences. A couple of summers ago, I attended The Church of the Poor course at Boston College which was given by Padre Gustavo Gutierrez, O.P., and James Nickoloff. This past April I attended an all-day conference called “Spirituality for the Second Half of Life” which also took place at Boston College. I am most grateful that Boston College provided manual interpreters for these events. I also attend Jesuit and diocesan priests’ educational gatherings.

How do you keep your relationship with the Lord strong and continue to grow spiritually?

Through personal and community prayers. I talk to the Lord all the time even when I am shopping and driving. I go on the annual eight day Ignatian retreat once a year. I meet with my spiritual director. I also do spiritual reading.

Praying, thinking and writing my homilies also keep me very connected to the Lord. Planning and writing notes for the Bible classes also help me keep my relationship with the Lord.

Growing up I never heard a homily. I “heard” my first homily after I entered the Jesuits. From time to time when there is an interpreter present I am able to listen to a homily. I find homilies very helpful in keeping me connected to Jesus.

How do you stay connected with my brother priests?

I keep in touch with them by e-mails and going to Jesuit and priest gatherings.

Do you have any special interest or hobbies that you enjoy?

I enjoy being with my brother’s family and my deaf friends. I also enjoy swimming and stamp collecting. I also collect items for the Deaf Catholic Archives which preserve our Deaf Catholic heritage. The Deaf Catholic Archives are located at Holy Cross College library.

What is the best way to encourage priestly vocations? How do you encourage priestly and religious vocations?

The best way is to be a good example and joyful in my own vocation. Do not be afraid to face the struggles.

Praying for vocations is a powerful way to help the Church. When I entered the Jesuits in 1974, there were no deaf men who were priests in the United States. Right now in 2010 there are 11 deaf priests in the United States. God willing, by next year there will be another deaf man who will be ordained a priest for the archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Father Bruce